The Freedom Fighters, Maulboyheenner and Tunnerminnerwait 168th anniversary - Melbourne 20th January

Freedom Fighters Anniversary
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168th Anniversary - 2009
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LEST WE FORGET - JOIN US to commemorate the 168th Anniversary of the Execution of the two Freedom Fighters Tunnerminnerwait & Maulboyheenner executed 20th January 1842 at the site the exeuction took place

Cnr Bowen & Franklin Streets, Melbourne

Wednesday 20th January, 2010 at 12:00noon to 1:00pm (Victorian Daylight Saving Time)

The commemoration will be broadcast live 12:00pm-1:00pm on Community Radio 3CR - 855 on the AM dial and streaming live on The microphone will be opened to the people attending the commemoration to air their views after the guest speakers have spoken.

Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenne
Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner were amoung 5 Tasmanian Aborigines who conducted a campaign of resistance to European settlement in 1841 around Western Port and South Gippsland near Melbourne. After 3 military expeditions they were finally captured and brought back to Melbourne for trial. They were not allowed to give evidence themselves. The two men were found guilty of murder, with the jury saying due to the circumstances mercy should be granted. No mercy was given and Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner were the first judicial executions to take place in Melbourne on January 20, 1842 before a crowd of 5,000 - a quarter of the population of Melbourne at the time.

2009 Commemoration
Requests have been made to Melbourne City Council to erect a memorial to Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner. Joseph Toscano ran for Lord mayor in 2008 focusing on this issue, with the result that Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle and Greens Councilor Cathy Oke both attended and spoke to the crowd. The Commemoration was opened with a Welcome to Country speech by Robbie Thorpe, Gunnai elder, followed by a smoking ceremony.

Smoking CeremonyJo Toscano & Robbie Thorpe
2009 Commemoration of indigenous resistance freedom fighters Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner, who were the first judicial executions in Melbourne on January 20, 1842.
Smoking CeremonyGathering in Bowen Street
Old Melbourne City Baths in Background

2008 Commemoration
In 2008 over sixty people, indigenous and non-indigenous, gathered at the corner of Franklin and Bowen Street, Melbourne on January 20 2008, opposite the City Baths to remember Tasmanian Aborigines Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner, the 166th anniversary of the judicial murder of these two indigenous freedom fighters.

It was the third annual commemoration held on this site. A commemoration committee has been formed which aims:

  • to hold an annual commemoration on January 20 at the corner of Bowen and Franklin streets Melbourne, the site of the execution.
  • to acknowledge the injustice that happenned in 1842
  • to highlight the unfinished business that still exists between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians
  • to work towards the establishment of a significant public monument on or near the site

Culture Wars Counter Attack: Remembering Aboriginal Resistance to the Invasion

by Joseph Toscano Friday January 27, 2006 at 12:25 AM on Melbourne Indymedia

The 30 or so people who gathered at the corner of Bowen and Franklin Streets in Melbourne last Saturday to mark the 164th anniversary of the execution of the indigenous freedom fighters Tunnerminnerwait and Peevay, decided to appoint a Steering Committee to examine the possibility of ongoing action.

Australia has been involved in a viscous culture war over the past 2 decades that has been conducted by a small but influential clique of reactionary historical revisionists who enjoy a great deal of support in the Federal Cabinet and Murdoch's flagship in Australia - The Australian. This war has been fought to undermine gains made by indigenous Australians, the trade union and community based orgnisations. They have succeeded in their efforts to undermine the gains made by people who have been oppressed for generations.

Ironically, while historical revisionists that deny the Holocaust occurred are correctly marginalised and ridiculed, those in Australia who deny the reality of the colonisation process in this country are lauded, are given a voice by both the Federal government and influential sections of the corporate media. The formation of a group that is willing to take these historical and cultural revisionists head on, is long overdue.

The best way to tackle the lies and misinformation that is currently doing the rounds, is by publicly commemorating significant events in our past, by erecting memorials, plaques and statues to physically mark these events, by putting pressure on local councils to establish and maintain these memorials and encouraging them to hold seminars and information days to inform the residents of their municipalities about these significant events and to put pressure on the government of the day to ensure that these important stories are told in the National Museum, the National Library, the National Art Gallery and most importantly of all, the story about the indigenous resistance to white colonisation is told in the Canberra War Memorial.

If you are interested in joining and supporting the 'CULTURE WARS COUNTERATTACK', keep reading the Anarchist Age Weekly Review and listening to the Anarchist World This Week [3CR Wednesdays 10am] to find out what is planned for the rest of the year.


I first came across the story of Tunnerminnerwait and Peevay in a second hand bookshop 4 or 5 years ago. I'd heard about the first executions that had occurred in Victoria in the early 1840's, but knew nothing about them. It was one of those fortuitous meetings that happen once in a while. In the bottom shelf of the Australian History section was a copy of Jack of Cape Grimm which has been written by Jan Roberts as a bicentenary subject. She wanted to do a TV series, nothing came of it, now her book, like the bones of Tunnerminnerwait and Peevay rotting underneath the Queen Victoria Market, have joined the community's collective unconsciousness.

I've been thinking about organising something to mark their execution for 2 to 3 years. It was only late last year after a little bit of prodding from a friend - Bill, that the Anarchist Media Institute organised a commemoration. Even if 3 or 4 turned up, the event would stir up a few leaves in the collective amnesia of the city of Melbourne.

Saturday was the hottest day for over a year, temperatures soared around 40degrees. The spot - corner Franklin & Bowen Streets is bare asphalt, workmen were trying to get in and out of RMIT in their utes. About 30 of us made a circle, a few talked about the significance of the events, for an hour we remembered, we had blown life into this city's forgotten history. Although the media had been invited, no one came, no one called. I didn't expect anybody to bother; they had bigger fish to fry - what was happening at Ramsey Street, the cricket and 101 other meaningless events to cover.

It doesn't matter, we have started a tradition which will grow and grow, a Steering Committee was appointed - 'THE CUTURE WARS COUNTER ATTACK' was born kicking and screaming. It is amazing what happens when we try to make the ideas in our heads a reality. Tunnerminnerwait and Peevay's deaths are not forgotten. People had tears in their eyes as I recounted their stories. A bunch of flowers, an A3 poster and a leaflet were taped around a tree, someone else will come across their story, maybe, just maybe, they will take the trouble like you to join us next year.


Every Australian knows about the Ned Kelly gang, how many Australians are familiar with the story of PLANOBEENA, PYTERRUNNER, TRUCANNINI, TUNNERMINNERWAIT and PEEVAY - Fanny, Matilda, Truganni, Jack and Robert - 5 indigenous Tasmanians who fought an effective campaign against the invading European settlers on the Eastern outskirts of Melbourne in the late 1841.

Their exploits rival those of the Ned Kelly gang. One group has been ignored and forgotten, the other immortalised in Australia folklore Three military expeditions were launched against 5 of the 17 Tasmanian Aborigines that had been brought across from Tasmania by the Aboriginal "protector" Robinson - for the purpose of aiding in the civilisation of the Aborigines of Australia Felix-the remnants of the Tasmania tribes who had fought a 34 year battle against the invasion of Tasmania by European settlers were once again conducting war against the invaders, this time in Victoria.

All 5 were familiar with firearms and the ways of European settlers. The invaders held no fear for them and they were able to evade 3 military expeditions that were sent to kill them.

They raided station after station from Dandenong to Cape Paterson. They stole firearms and burnt down stations, trying to avoid unnecessary deaths and gunfights. They killed 2 whalers, Cook and Yankee, wounded 5 settlers, burnt down numerous farmhouses and evaded capture for 8 weeks. Although they set out to drive the settlers from the bush, they didn't harm women or children and only fired at those that fired at them. Considering the outrages that had been perpetrated on them and their families in Tasmania, it's extraordinary that they didn't kill many more settlers when they had the opportunity to even up the score.

They were finally captured near Anderson's Inlet, not far from Cape Patterson, after an exchange of gunfire with an overwhelming party of soldiers, police, settlers and black trackers, who were used to pinpoint their position in the bush. In 8 weeks, this small band had sent a shiver down the spine of the 15,000 Europeans who were living in Melbourne and its environs in late 1841.

The Aboriginal prisoners arrived in Melbourne 6 days after they were captured in chains and under military escort on the 21st November 1841. All the defendants were charged with murder, they appeared in court on the 20th December 1841. Mr. Redmond Barry, the standing Defence Counsel for Aborigines who represented the 5 in court, was the same man who presided over the trial of some of the miners who were involved in the Eureka rebellion in 1854 and the judge who sentenced Ned Kelly to hang in 1880.

Barry conducted a very skilful defence, Robinson gave character evidence for the fire, and later the same evening the jury took half an hour to reach a verdict. The men were found guilty of murder, the women were found not guilty. The jury made a very strong plea for clemency for the men "on account of general good character and the peculiar circumstances under which they are placed".

The next day Judge Willis sentenced the 2 men to death and the 3 women were discharged into Robinson's care. The jury's plea for mercy was rejected by the Executive Council of New South Wales. There had never been an execution in Melbourne since it was founded in 1836.

It's ironic that the first 2 executions were of indigenous resistance fighters. The execution was carried out on the site of the current Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology on the 20th January 1842. 5000 people, a quarter of Victoria's white population turned up for Melbourne's first public executions.

Tunnerminnerwait faced the execution calmly, Peevy was terror struck and had to be dragged up to the gallows. The gallows were poorly built, the execution had no previous experience, the trap doors opened, both men only partially fell, "the 2 twisted and writhed convulsively in a manner that horrified even the most hardened". A spectator kicked the piece of timber holding the trapdoor partially opened, Robert slowly choked to death.

Jack and Robert were buried outside the Melbourne cemetery (under the current Victoria Market). Aboriginal armed resistance continued in Victoria till the 1850's.

MATERIAL FOR ARTICLE: Jack of Cape Grim by Jan Roberts, Greenhouse Publications 1986, ISBN 086436007X